Expect more to get more

Over the years, I have worked with students of different cultural, socioeconomic, and academic backgrounds. One year I taught at one of Philadelphia’s most challenging schools with one of the lowest teacher-retention rates. Violence, poverty, and failing scores gave the school a negative reputation in the community. I quickly discovered that most of my colleagues were burnt out and expected behavior problems and poor performance. I was assigned a class of 32 below-level students without any special education, language, or behavior support.

Given the situation, how should a teacher envision the year ahead? Should a teacher expect every lesson to be interrupted with behavior problems? Should a teacher expect that no child will pass the state test? I refused to accept that the situation was out of my control.

I focused on attaining quality academic and behavioral performance from each student. I consistently set high, yet achievable, expectations and didn’t back down. These expectations were continually communicated with students and families. We celebrated growth, successes, and even attendance on a daily basis. The kids felt accountable knowing there would always be follow-through.

After the first trimester other staff members began to notice a dramatic, positive change in this class. By March my students were exhibiting record gains on the Benchmark Assessment.

Although I may not be a better or more experienced teacher, I believe I approached the year much differently than my colleagues. Preconceived notions did not dictate my school year. Past performance is certainly beneficial information to have, but this information should not be used to place students in a box. Rather, one should use this information to motivate students appropriately and raise the bar whenever possible. Instruction must be differentiated to meet cultural, academic, language, and learning style needs. However, the definition of quality must remain the same and shouldn’t waiver between student populations.

How do you set expectations for your students? Would love to hear your ideas!